In his address to the congregation at the farewell Mass in Limerick, the Irish Provincial, John Dardis SJ, finds reason to celebrate and honour the many Jesuits who have ministered in the church over the past 140 years.
Bishop Murray, Mayor Leddin, my fellow Jesuits, friends of the Sacred Heart Church here in Limerick.
We are here to mark in a solemn way the closure of this church and we do this in a Eucharist which Bishop Murray has celebrated with such devotion. Closures and endings are difficult events – naturally we all prefer openings since they are always more optimistic and forward-looking.
Yet, this evening, we have celebrated! We have celebrated because we have recalled the fact that the Holy Spirit has been working here for the last 140 years. The Spirit was working in the people who came here – your parents, your grandparents, perhaps even your great-grandparents. The Spirit was working in the priests and brothers who ministered here. The Spirit was working in the confessionals you see along the side of the church, in the Eucharist that was celebrated, in the intercession of the Jesuit saints pictured here at the back of the sanctuary. We are here this evening because of the working of that Spirit. Our lives have been touched, changed, renewed though all of this and we give thanks to God for that. I hope and pray that the new owner of this building will be sensitive to its great tradition.
Jesuit initiatives for faith and justice in Limerick
We can honour the memory of all who worked and worshipped here by living our faith in the particular circumstances of today. The call today is to proclaim the Good News faithfully, creatively and fearlessly. New ways need to be explored about how to do this, so that the next generation is nourished and sustained in the same way that previous generations were, albeit in different ways. People are still hungering for the Gospel. They need to know God’s saving love and to know he is reaching out to them.
a) Centre for spirituality and Culture
Our new Centre for Spirituality and Culture will help people on a personal level and in smaller groups to know god’s love for them. That will be sited at Dooradoyle. We hope to work with other religious and lay people to develop this.
b) Crescent Comprehensive
The Jesuit school at Dooradoyle, Crescent College Comprehensive, deserves a special mention. The Ethos team there, the Headmaster and Staff, the Parents, the Board under the Chairmanship of Joe Murphy all are contributing to develop the school in the best Jesuit tradition.
c) Jesuit Refugee Service
The arrival of asylum seekers and refugees to our shores is another challenge that we want to take on. It is a priority of the Jesuits worldwide. An office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, the JRS, will open in Limerick which will direct our work at national level in Ireland. JRS offices are located in over 50 countries and more than 376,000 people benefit directly from JRS projects., funded partly by EU funds.
I hope that those plans confirm that, with regard to the people of Limerick, the Jesuits will not be found wanting. Limerick is important to the Jesuits, and I would hope that the Jesuits are important to Limerick.
Many Jesuits are here tonight who are Limerick-born, who studied in the school when the school was just here beside the church, who received their First Communion, and perhaps Confirmation in this church here. From here Jesuits have headed out to Zambia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, to work with the poorest of the poor. You and I can both be proud of that tradition. Numbers joining today are smaller but just last week I accepted someone into the novitiate for this coming September and a number of young men are considering joining the Jesuits the following year and we thank God for that. Numbers will probably never be what they were in the 50s and 60s and so decisions like this have to be taken. But the Jesuit vocation and the priesthood today are still valid and wonderful calls, and I thank God that young men are still recognising that and following that call.
Thanks and congratulations
Finally, I want to thank especially the men who worked here in the last number of years, when they were struggling to maintain a large building and to keep services going to the people of Limerick: Fr. Frank O’Neill, who was in charge of the church and the house until last year; Fr. Seán Ó Duibhir, who now has gone to Dublin because of ill-health; Fr. John FitzGerald, who came back from mission work and has spent the last number of years here; Fr. Dermot Cassidy, known to so many of you; Fr. Ronan Geary, who has moved on to work in Clongowes; Fr. Niall O’Neill, who was based here but worked mostly in Ferbane in a nursing home; and, of course, Fr. Tom McMahon and Fr. Dan Dargan, who did so much here over the years, and are now in our nursing home in Dublin. They deserve our thanks and they have helped so many of you in so many ways. A special thanks to Fr Dermot Murray who was charged with overseeing the closure and sale of the building. Thank you, Dermot, for undertaking this with courage and sensitivity. And I also want to say a special word of thanks to your small committee which helped and supported you.
I want to thank Bishop Donal Murray for coming here this evening to mark the occasion. It is an historic moment and it is most appropriate that Bishop Donal is here representing the wider Church. I also thank the Mayor of Limerick for being here. It is an important event in the history of this city.
As regard the Jesuits and the work of the Church here, we can say the mission has been accomplished. We have fought the good fight, we have kept the Faith and we have passed it on to the next generations. So, this particular chapter in Limerick closes while other chapters in Limerick are opening. Other frontiers are being explored. We give thanks to God for that and ask his blessing as we go forward.